Swift, Celebrity, Stories and Sovereignty

Yes, I am a Swiftie. Unabashedly a Swiftie. Always have been, most likely always will. I’m loving the new song (total earworm!) and the video is a little bit of genius. It’s also gotten me thinking, which is what all art/social commentary should do, no?

Musician and singer/songwriter Loreena McKennitt has spoken about the cult of celebrity for a few years now, how it has changed music makers from being artists to being commodities.  The face of music has changed so drastically in the last ten years that it’s becoming more and more difficult to express yourself musically, as an artist, rather than going for the superficial jugular of celebrity status. While I’m not saying that Taylor Swift has never sought celebrity, this clever woman has criticised it and examined it from many angles over the span of her career.

Taylor Swift’s most recent song and video, “Look What You Made Me Do“, is another critique of how people see her, based on assumptions made from the media, other artists, the haters and the Swifties alike. (She previously covered one assumption a few years back in her video, “Blank Space“, poking fun at the  media image of her being an over-emotional, co-dependent serial relationship junkie.) It’s a very good tongue-in-cheek look at the many personas that others have created for her, such as the leader of “The Squad” (a media reference to her circle of famous friends), her so-called “surprise face” when she wins awards, her “love” of playing the victim and more. Before the song was released, Taylor had wiped all social media, deleted all Facebook, Twitter and Instagram posts, as well as having her website simply showing a black screen. It’s a very shrewd move, personally deleting everything that the media could interpret about her, which she knows as well as we do that it’s only a part of who she is, a representation of a facet of a person. No one is their Facebook or Twitter account.

Taylor Swift ReputationThe song and video also points out that we need to take responsibility in our lives, which includes personal and emotional responsibility. The title, “Look What You Made Me Do” is referencing that fact that we often blame others for so many things, which engenders a lack of personal responsibility when it comes to the art of basic living. We need to take responsibility back for ourselves, for our actions, our words, our thoughts and emotions. When we do so, we pull of the mask that allows us to stay in our wounded selves, and to fly free with the wings of freedom and sovereignty. The reaction of others to this, well, what can I say? Some may praise you for it, some may criticise, some may hate and some may love you for it. The title is also a comment on how the media have created and fabricated all these stories about her, making her as a media-created character do and say things that are completely false. Taylor Swift’s new album (available beginning of November) is called Reputation, is yet another examination of the power of story, and who is telling it, and to whom.

This year, on a pilgrimage to Glastonbury, I met with the goddess Bloedewedd at the White Spring. She cautioned me to choose the mask that I wish to present to the world, otherwise others would do it for me. As I was watching Taylor’s video, these words came back to me, reflecting that everyone needs to choose, otherwise the choices will be made for them. Some would argue that we should simply take off all masks, and I would agree with this statement up to a point. We need boundaries, and certain barriers in place for different situations.

When I am working in a professional capacity, I can’t be the silly goof that I am in my dance troupe, twerking in the middle of a choreography just to make the others laugh. When I am teaching, I can’t be the child running to the bottom of the garden in search of faeries, or seeing how much of the alphabet I can burp after several glasses of Prosecco. We have different masks, different hats that we wear in different situations, because I am a daughter, a wife, a Druid, an author, a dancer, a woman, a teacher, a friend, a sister, a lover. To some, I am even a challenge, an enemy, a fraud, a hypocrite, a liar, and more. While this may not be true, other people’s interpretation of me is something that I have very little control over. They may have their reasons for believing in the story that they hold of me, they may not. But we have to remember: it’s just a story.

What is important is that our story is something that we can be proud of. Not in order to impress others, but for ourselves, so that we can move forward and add to our story with honour and integrity. We can shake off other people’s perceptions of us, because we have very little control over that anyway. We can choose to not be commodified inasmuch as we are able, and to take the reins in our journey and guide ourselves towards the sovereignty and the story that we wish to fulfill. Only we know the truth of our story, the terrible lows and the glorious highs. Only we can choose to move forward with honesty and good self-examination, in order to achieve our goals and to live a life that’s more integrated, with deep and sustainable relationships.

I’m proud of my story.

And so is Taylor Swift.


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Compassion for the Self

It’s easy to have compassion for others, for the most part.  In doing so, we feel we are making the world a better place.  What we fail to realise is that compassion must first start with our self – that is where the change in the world begins.

A lot of people don’t take the time out of their lives to look at their own self, at least not without using some form of judgement.  And even if they do so, often they can feel guilty about it – they should be helping the kids with the homework or working at the local animal shelter instead of perhaps meditating on the nature of compassion.  What I would suggest is that perhaps this taking time out for yourself is the very best thing you can do, for yourself and for the world.

Compassion for others is often seen as noble – when all it really is, is simply compassion.  There is nothing noble about it at all – it is merely a way of viewing the world not merely as an exercise in inter-relatedness, but of a deep knowing that everything is connected to each other.  The iron in our blood comes from star-stuff, the computer I write upon is made of plastic and metal, which in turn is made up of a myriad things that can relate back to sunlight, water, human and other animals.  Compassion is seeing this in everything, and in doing so letting the barriers of the self and the other fall away so that we can see clearly, and in doing so, empathise and act accordingly with the world around us.

Not too terribly hard to grasp, that.  But what of compassion for our selves? We are taught, at least in the Western world, to judge anything and everything.  I’ve heard it said that this is what makes us human, different from the rest of the animal kingdom. It’s an interesting thought.  We can judge others fairly, harshly, unfairly or with loving kindness.  However, it is still a judgement.  We cannot have a judgement without having a sense of self – and yet how many of us have looked in the mirror at some point in their lives and said “Who is that?”.

There are many theories as to what makes up the sense of the self – from a mere collection of thoughts that we have repeated over and over until we believe them, the loudest pushing forwards, to an eternal and changeless core of existence that we try to return to again and again.  I can offer no ideas – I’m still searching. What I do know is that this sense of self, however we view it, can get in the way of compassion.

Believing in a self, means that we believe in a separate entity to all other things.  That’s not so bad – but it’s also where a helluva lot of conflict, judgement, and bad-behaviour can arise.  I can judge something because it is not me – or in a lot of cases, because something reminds me of what I don’t want to be, I shall judge it, and judge it either wisely or harshly depending on my mood.

I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to fully drop the sense of self, but what I can and am trying to do is to drop the judgement that comes from the sense of self.  In an earlier blog, I wrote about ceasing to expect things from other people – and how this can only be a good thing.  This leads on to a life without judgement as well. I’m getting better at it when it comes to other people. But when it comes to myself?  I am my own worst critic. How many of us have said those exact words? How many of us judge ourselves more harshly than we could ever judge others, or even worse, project these judgements of ourselves unconsciously onto others in order to feel better about ourselves or to outpace our own demons?

The key lies in finding compassion for your self.  To sit with your self, to see your self in all reality, in the “good” and the “bad” – whatever those may be.  In acknowledging all that you have done, and realising that, as in a Taylor Swift song, that “who you are is not where you’ve been” or “who you are is not what you did”.  Pretty deep stuff from a 19 year old in her song, Innocent.  I also really like the lyric “Lost your balance on a tightrope, it’s never too late to get it back”.  We have all made mistakes – we can stop judging ourselves and simply get on with living life to the fullest with all compassion, for ourselves and for others (which is really one and the same).

This last month has been a deep, introspective month for me, of looking deep into my soul and seeing the good, the bad and the ugly.  Coming to terms with all of this, with all past mistakes and glourious achievements, and realising that these are not what constitute my being – they are simply my past – has led to a mini-breakthough in the way I view the world.

I have compassion for my Self.

Getting to know your Self, in understanding, not in judging, is the key to compassion.  If we all simply tried to understand everything and everyone, instead of judging – as Sam Cooke sang, “what a wonderful world this would be”.  See your faults, see your errors, see your successes and your triumphs. And let them go. Return to the Self of the present moment, instead of living in the past, and letting the past define you.

Equally – stop living in the future. Stop judging your Self for not being where you want to be. Stop being so harsh for having dreams, even.  Let the future go, much as the past.  Sure, it’s okay to plan, but hold onto those plans lightly, for everything in this world changes. It’s the one constant, paradoxically.

Get on with life now – by having compassion for your Self.  It’s the best thing you can do, for yourself and for the world.  If we can let go, we can truly live in a world of love and peace.  End the judgement, and begin the understanding, both of your Self and the world around you. Have some compassion – for your Self.